I awoke this morning to a moment of silent, before the warm summer wind picked up again. Rising from bed, I showered. I dressed in my zoo uniform, then walked out to the kitchen and prepared myself a morning coffee, as I heard tyres on the gravel. It would have been too early for visitors, so I was a little bit surprised at the presence of a vehicle. I poured my coffee into a keep-cup. Heading outside, the sun rose with swirls of pink. Red sky morning, shepherd’s warning, as a woman emerged from the car which had parked in our carpark. There was something familiar about her face, although I couldn’t place her name.
“Hi, good morning,” I greeted. “We’re not open until nine o’clock, I’m sorry.”
I glanced towards my watch, as if that was going to help either of us.
At the sound of her voice, the cogs clicked into place. Tanya’s long legs gave way to her blonde hair, then her smile.
“Oh, hi, Tanya.”
All I could consider was the work left to complete. We still had animals to feed. There was still a zoo to open. I’d not brought my phone with me, so I couldn’t call Mum and Dad.
“Can we talk, for a little while, please?”
“Yeah, of course.” I swallowed. “Would you like to come into our place, or into the zoo, actually?”
“I suppose that you’d charge admission.”
“Not, not at all.”
“Alright, then, well, I may as well.”
I smiled. I brought Tanya through, before the gates had open, in the hope that if she could see for herself, she would feel more sympathetic towards us.
“This is the nocturnal house, just here on the left.”
“For Australian animals?” Tanya queried as we entered the building.
“No, not mostly.”
“Would you put more animals in here?”
“Maybe, in the future.”
“We do have the space, on this side.” I gestured towards the area in which the benches had been placed. “We’ll see, though, what happens in the future.”
We moved on to the next exhibit on the right.
“The devils have the choice to be indoors or outdoors during the day. We like giving them choices.”
“This really is a beautiful space.”
“Oh, thank you.”
From there, I was keen to show her the islands, which were in fact more expansive.
“This is our siamang exhibit, with the breeding pair, Medan and Georgia, and their little baby girl, Jelita, who was born last year.”
“My goodness, she’s so tiny,” Tanya gushed, while I felt the opposite, that Jelita looked so big compared to when I’d first laid eyes on her.
“She was named after my grandmother.”
I sensed Tanya had more to say, but I didn’t pry, because I suspected her mind might have been running in overdrive, as it was. I cast my eyes over the plains beyond the existing zoo grounds. Perhaps one day we would expand into those fields, filling them with prides of lions and roaming herds of giraffes. Maybe even those elephants Uwak Andrew would mention from time to time – but, for the meantime, I returned to the carpark with Tanya.
“Thank you for showing me around.”
Tanya dropped into the driver’s seat of her car, waving as she fastened her seatbelt across her chest. Finally, I departed, feeling like I was retreating. I worked throughout the day, until my phone rang – Patrick.
“Hey, we’re about to hit the road, so--.” I swallowed. “Can we swing by your place, swing by the zoo?”
There wouldn’t be much time for work, to ensure I didn’t miss him. Fifteen minutes later, Patrick came over, with baby Joey in the pouch.
“Sloane’s just ducked into the toilet, she’ll be over in a minute. We’ve just come to say goodbye.”
We hugged, his curls brushing against my cheeks. I pondered giving him a last kiss. It wouldn’t have been appropriate, except for a peck on the cheek. As I pulled back, Joanna scrunched up her face. Thankfully, Sloane returned just in time. Patrick unclipped Joanna, handing her over to her mother. He hugged me tightly, one last time.
“Take care, Jumilah. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you,” was all I could say.
I followed them back to the carpark, waving goodbye while they packed Joanna into the car, and drove away. I wiped my cheeks, then glanced up at the vast, pale sky. Really all I could do was count my blessings, to be living in this beautiful place. Late in the day, I was manning the entrance kiosk. I could only see a slither of the road. A car drove down, more slowly than if they’d been continuing on to the other properties. We hadn’t afforded ourselves much room for a carpark, but there was a part-grassy, part-gravel area on the other side of our house. The blinker on, I presumed that visitors were turning up later than I would have expected. For a moment I thought that it might have been a protestor. However, the car was just using the zoo driveway as a turning circle. When the clock ticked over to five, I closed the zoo gates for the end of opening hours. Then this became a private kingdom, in which I fed and watered the animals around the grounds. Finally, I locked up the nocturnal house. A moment of quiet sent a shiver through my body. I came into the house while the sun was going down, hearing the sound of the TV. After the report the night before, I doubted there would be anything about us. It’s not like I’m trying to become a media personality. The thought of it is a little unnerving, but Dad turned the volume up as I entered the loungeroom.
“Are you hungry?”
It wasn’t an answer to the question, much less truthful.
“There’s still Christmas leftovers.”
I sat down beside him on the lounge for a little while. People on the news were talking about the swimming. I finally drifted off to sleep, the darkness a comfort rather than something to fear.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.